What are the common and current, American English general words encapsulating:

1. Knives, forks, and spoons.

I know the words "silverware" as well as "flatware", but I don't know which one is more appropriate and precise here! On top of that, I don't know if these words sound normal in everyday conversation or not!

Note: also, "cutlery" as far as I'm concerned is a British / Canadian term which many Americans may even never have heard of.

2. Knives, forks, spoons, + plates, glasses, etc. used for meals.

I know "tableware" which as per Cambridge is a formal word. While I need a word that people use in everyday speech at the table.

Note: as far as I know, "crockery" is a British / Canadian term which many Americans are not familiar with. Besides, it does not encompass "knives", "forks", and "spoons".

In addition to that, I am really interested to know how I can distinguish the word "dishes" from all of these?


3 Answers 3


In my experience, silverware is the most common term for metal eating utensils (forks, knives, spoons), though flatware is also perfectly acceptable. I've also heard and used cutlery to describe this set of items, though in the U.S., cutlery can also refer to kitchen knives of all kinds.

Crockery is very common to refer to ceramic dish sets, also just referred to as "the dishes" or "dishware"; in my experience, the more formal version of this would be "fine china."

Tableware doesn't strike me as particularly formal, but there's also not very many situations where I'd be talking about the table settings as a whole, and not the individual parts--the glasses, the plates, the silverware, etc.

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    No one talks about their flatware and tableware. That is a commercial term, what you see when you go shopping. They talk about silverware and dishes in everyday speech. What people say everyday and what you see in stores/shops/online are two different things.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 15:48
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    I'm not sure if this is common or something local to me, but in my experience, flatware is typically used to distinguish stainless steel utensils (flatware) from silver utensils (silver ware), but only when the distinction matters: eg. when setting up a formal dinner, one would specify whether to set the table with flatware or silverware.
    – asgallant
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 16:27
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    @Lambie, I agree with asgallant, my wife will often ask for flatware at a restaurant, because she knows they do not have silverware. If we were at a restaurant with silverware, it would probably be set correctly to begin with!
    – Glen Yates
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 16:45
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    @asgallant I've heard similar things, but I think that usage is on its way out. Fine utensils (true "silverware") are, in my experience, referred to as simply "silver" if a single term is used at all. Silverware has been a very everyday term for common utensils in my ~30 years of life in the U.S., and never once have I seen any confusion over regular flatware and fine silver utensils. I also hear flatware used interchangeably with, but much less often than silverware. Relatively few people even have fine utensils of any material these days-- it's a distinction with diminishing relevance.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:29
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    @A-friend That's the usage I've encountered all my life, without any exceptions that I can recall. Modern common usage doesn't distinguish between the color of the utensil or the materials from which the utensils are made when choosing between these words, and I've never heard flatware or silverware used in a situation where the other would be inappropriate for the speaker's meaning. That said, I've found flatware to be a less common term-- but that could easily be regional, or based on some other non-general distinction.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 18:05

Regarding "the dishes":

A dish, in my area of the USA is more often called "a plate". It is a flat, usually round thing made from plastic, glass, or ceramic that you put non-liquid food on and eat from.

However, the dishes can either mean a collection of plates, (especially as compared to bowls, as in "put the dishes here and the bowls there"), but most often means all the things that are used for eating and drinking in the phrase, "do the dishes". To do the dishes means to clean all the plates, bowls, cups, glasses, forks, knives, spoons, pots, and pans or rinse them and put them in the automatic dishwasher to be cleaned. I believe in British English this is often called "washing up".

For example, in the song about Cinderella from the Disney animated movie Cinderella, they sing about her doing, "the dishes and the mopping/they always keep her hopping". In that case, the dishes means all the tableware as I described in at the end of the previous paragraph.

"Silverware" and "cutlery" are commonly used in my area of the USA to mean forks, knives, and spoon that are used at the table for eating. "Flatware" means the same thing (in my experience) but is rarely used in a normal household. "Tableware" is most often used in stores, catalogs, and websites that sell kitchen and dining implements to indicate all the things that are used to eat at the table as opposed to things used in the kitchen to cook food. "Flatware" is also used in the same contexts to mean the forks, knives, and spoons used at the table for eating, as opposed to any forks, knives, or spoons used for cooking, which are usually larger (and sharper, in the case of knives).

I rarely hear "cutlery" used in homes, but sometimes in restaurant the sets of silverware wrapped up in napkins that are placed at the tables are called "cutlery" or "cutlery sets" by staff or customers.

To summarize my answers to your two questions:

  1. “Silverware”

  2. There is no word I use for all of those things that doesn’t also include things that don’t usually go on the table. But if you include the pots and pans and so on that are in the kitchen, then it’s “the dishes”. How do you get everything off the table to “do the dishes”? You “clear the table”. When getting ready for a meal, you “set the table”. What do you set the table with? “Silverware, plates (and/or bowls), and glasses”. There is no one word I know of that is used commonly to mean all the things that go on the table.

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    There's also "plasticware", meaning utensils made of plastic, as commonly used with takeout food or on picnics.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 15:19
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    @Barmar I'm not sure if I've heard it, but I'm not surprised if that is used. Around me that's usually called "disposable" or just "plastic", as in "pass me one of those plastic forks". Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 15:20
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    Isn't a dish also a single food? "I'm bringing eggplant casserole as my potluck dish."
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:23
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    @A-friend My everyday words are in the answer but here they are again. “Silverware”: forks, knives, spoons. “Plates”: things you eat off of that aren’t bowls. “The dishes”: all the things used for cooking and/or eating and/or drinking. I don’t know what “crockery” means so I don’t have a word for that. I don’t normally say any word that means the same thing as “tableware”. I might say “set the table with silverware, plates, and glasses”, so I don’t use just one word for all the tableware. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 18:59
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    @A-friend I forgot the word utensils!! That is definitely used by me and many others in the US, but it is a bit more complicated. “Plastic utensils” means plastic forks, knives and spoons. But “the utensil drawer” in the kitchen usually has none of those, instead it has the garlic press, can opener, ice cream scoop, cheese grater, whisks, tongs, and other kitchen implements that are used in food preparation. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 19:06

In USA, people call silverware only for the forks, spoons, and knives that look silver. Otherwise, they just call them "utensils". I dont know if Canada does the same or not.

In other countries, such as Australia, they call "silverware" and "utensils" cutlery. It refers to just forks, spoons, knives, and in some East Asian restaurants, chopsticks. Britain and New Zealand must be the same I think.

I had never heard tableware used, but I think this would include plates and tissues/napkins as well in addition to cutlery.

Dishes would refer to just the plate or the food put on the plate. This is universal all over.

I had never heard cutlery be used in USA.

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